11 draft prospects for Raiders to consider in national title game

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Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News via AP

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) and quarterback Mac Jones (10) celebrate a touchdown pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Sat, Jan 9, 2021 (2 a.m.)

NFL executives watch a lot of film and attend numerous in-person workouts leading up to the draft and generally leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of prospects, but Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden will undoubtedly be paying extra attention to this year’s college football national championship game from a scouting perspective.

Since Mayock was named GM before the 2019 draft, Las Vegas has selected two Alabama players (Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs) and an Ohio State player (Damon Arnette) in the first round, and the Raiders have drafted six total players from those years’ national championship game. So it’s safe to say Mayock and Gruden will be keeping a close watch on Monday’s contest between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and the No. 3 Buckeyes.

Here are 11 prospects to monitor on Monday, as we know Mayock and Gruden will be doing:

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner needs no introduction. Smith is a little undersized for a No. 1 receiver at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, but he has produced at an elite level over the last two years, including 1,641 yards and 21 touchdowns (and counting) as a senior. The Raiders took his former Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs in the first round last year, but you could make a case that Las Vegas should still be on the market for a game-breaking wideout. Smith is likely to be the first or second receiver off the board, and the Raiders pick No. 17 overall behind some receiver-needy teams.

Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State

The odds of Las Vegas nabbing Davis in the draft are very low. That’s not a knock on the 6-foot-4, 315-pound guard, it’s more of a reflection of his first-round status. Most prognosticators expect Davis to be the first guard selected, and the Raiders have much more pressing needs than an interior offensive lineman. Then again, Gruden was not happy with the short-yardage offense this year.

“Our short yardage offense, 3rd-and-1, very disappointing,” Gruden said. “We were No. 1 in the league on 3rd-and-10 and I think we were No. 32 on 3rd-and-1. Unbelievable.”

Though there are bigger holes elsewhere on the roster, there are worse ways to spend a first-round pick than on an All-America blocker.

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The Raiders took a cornerback in the first round last year, but Damon Arnette struggled in a big way as a rookie, leaving some serious doubt as to whether he’ll be up to the task as a starter on the outside. Surtain, at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, has the frame and the speed to match up against even the most physically gifted receivers. In a passing league, and in a division run by Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, you can never have too many defensive backs. If the Raiders want him, they’ll have to use a first-round pick to get him.

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

The Raiders created no pressure on the interior this season, as defensive tackles Maurice Hurst, Maliek Collins, Johnathan Hankins and Kendal Vickers combined for just 3.5 sacks. It might be the weakest position group on the entire team. Barmore wouldn’t be an instant solution, but he would be an upgrade, as he logged 7.0 sacks this year while anchoring the Alabama defense. He’s another likely first-rounder.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

His teammate DeVonta Smith will probably be off the board when Las Vegas picks at No. 17 overall, but Waddle is likely to be available and some draft prognosticators view him as the more NFL-ready prospect. Waddle only played five games this year due to a knee injury, but he showed off his playmaking skills by catching 25 passes for 557 yards (a whopping 22.3 yards per reception). The issue with Las Vegas would be fit; Mayock and Gruden just took Ruggs in the first round last year, and at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, Waddle profiles a lot like Ruggs. Still, the receivers room is in need of more talent, especially if Nelson Agholor leaves as a free agent. It might not be a good match at No. 17, but if he slips to the second round somehow the Raiders would salivate.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

This is probably a non-starter, as the Raiders have a young Pro Bowl running back in Josh Jacobs. And even with Jacobs’ DUI arrest last week, there is little need to use a first-round pick on another ball carrier. Still, it’s fun to imagine the bruising Harris (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) bringing some thunder to the Raiders’ backfield. He has run for 1,387 yards and 24 touchdowns so far this season.

Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

The Raiders threw a lot of stuff against the wall at the linebacker position last offseason, most notably signing Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski to big-money contracts and trading for Raekwon McMillan, and the results were underwhelming. That makes Moses an attractive prospect, even as he struggled to return to form this year after a torn ACL sidelined him for the entire 2019 season. Moses was once viewed as a first-round lock but could now be available with a middle-round pick; he logged 70 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and one interception in 2020.

Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Olave’s stock is rising after a dominant performance in the CFP semifinal, as he burned Clemson for six catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns, and he’s now being talked about as a first-round prospect. That might be too rich for the Raiders’ blood in the first round, considering all the draft capital spent at the position last year.

Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

Ohio State has pumped out NFL defensive backs like an assembly line in recent years, and the Raiders tried to get in on that action last year by taking Arnette in the first round. Now it’s a year later and they still need a cornerback and Wade looks like he could be the next Buckeye blanket man. He’s projects as a second-rounder after picking off six passes in his three collegiate seasons.

Gruden didn’t seem to be in a rush to take another corner when he spoke to the media last week, however, positing that there is already sufficient talent in the defensive backfield and that continuity should take precedence.

“I think it’s pretty obvious, we need to get some continuity in this secondary,” Gruden said. “We need to get these guys out there day after day after day.”

Tyreke Smith, DE, Ohio State

Las Vegas actually has a decent set of young bookends in Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, but pass rushers are always at a premium on draft day and Smith could have something to offer at the pro level. Though he underperformed in his first two years at Ohio State, he broke out somewhat in 2020 by recording a pressure rate of 22.3 percent as a junior. He’s not an elite prospect, despite his NFL size (6-foot-4, 267 pounds) and athleticism; if he declares, he’d likely be available in the fourth round or lower.

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

As a first-round pick and replacement for Derek Carr, this wouldn’t make much sense. But there is value in having a backup quarterback on a rookie-scale contract, and the Raiders know that very well after paying Marcus Mariota $7.5 million to play in one game this year. If Jones is still on the board in the second or third round, it might be worth it to grab him as a legitimate low-cost backup to Carr (and a stealth development project in the meantime).

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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